“Dude, I am not political, I hate ’em all.”

“Hate ’em all.”

“Man, I like that Ron Paul though.”

“Dude, Ron Paul! Ron. Paul!”

“RONPAUL!”

Jesus, I knew it was going to be a mistake coming into the Blue Dragon, the moment I saw the front window, eight neon signs for different beers, stuffed toy team mascots, the works. Inside, the whole joint boiling, the dark bar with cones of light, the pool tables with red baize, Smashing Pumpkins on the digital jukebox, 200 Bowling Green State University kids, most of them with fake ID, getting their drink on. Beefy, all of the boys, either cos they’re on the team, or cos they’re already working on morbid obesity, blonde girls in their boyfriends’ team jerseys, two sizes too large, their long hair swinging behind them as they play eight-ball bad enough to not challenge the boys’ ego.

An hour earlier, fresh from a Newt Gingrich-Rick Santorum double-header at the college’s Lincoln Day dinner, I stepped into the vestibule, caught an image of myself in the glass, and reminded myself that I was now an old dude, fat, balding and greybearded.

Four years ago, I looked 10 years younger, and could have got away with this, been mistaken for a perpetual grad student, young professor — hip or sad or both it would make no difference — and slipped into a conversation easily. Now I look like the goddam Dean, or an angry father searching for his daughter — “Cassidy! I know you’re here, Cassidy! Front and centre young lady!” — and I myself feel like an imposition on these kids’ youth.

Just being here, feels like frenching an RSVP.com date at the bar of the Peel, it’s just wrong from Wrongsville, Ohio. Try this in Spain, or somewhere like that — and believe me I have — and they wouldn’t mince words: “Go home. This is not your place.” Would this happen here?

No way dude. I had forgotten the essential gentle shlubishness of the American teenager. The guys next to me had been talking about the motorcade that had flashed through town, after Rick Santorum had finished speaking. The Ray Romano of the GOP primaries has now earned himself a secret service detail — unlike poor old Newt, who crept out of Bowling Green in the back of a rented Prius driven by a creepy volunteer (possibly) — and had brought the whole town to a halt for half an hour.

The guys — Steve, Bill and Titus, yes Titus — looked like the three runners-up in the audition for the role of “Turtle” in Entourage. They were eying the blondes round the pool tables as hungrily as if they were plates of BBQ chicken strips, and they were doing what young f-ckless men do in college towns across the world, restoring their egos through epic acts of drinking, to be followed by epic acts of vomiting.

The college bars are all spread out along a long strip beside the enormous sprawling BGSU campus, and the kids are ferried by ad hoc taxis charging a flat four dollar fee — with an extra 30 if you throw up, as notices in the cabs specify. They’re all SUVs driven by ex-BGSU students who never made it out, and now circulate like ghosts of themselves round this college toy town.

Five years ago, they were sitting where these three guys are. This is the great secret of American life — the more that its political candidates talk of dynamism, entrepreneurship etc, the more that billionaires parade across the public stage and impossibly pneumatic people occupy the screens, most people simply give up and bunk out, finding their identity in amused failure.

Officially, America is quixotic, tilting at windmills; in its underbelly it is Sancho Panza, fat, lazy and looking for the nearest haystack to sleep behind. That was the guys at the bar. They said they were out for “pussy, dude!” but they really wanted to drink themselves into a stupor, eat pizza and watch a 3am repeat of King of Queens.

The root cause of the American obesity crisis is a deep desire to avoid s-x, or rather the mad nihilistic market that s-x has become a proxy for. The hero of 2008 was, briefly, Obama, who managed to give off the air that though he was one of the Quixotes, he understood where the Sancho Panzas were coming from.

The hero of ’12 is neither Romney nor Santorum nor even Ron Paul, but Snooki, the Jersey Shore beach pig who is now, apparently, pregnant, quite possibly from sitting on the right vinyl couch at the wrong time. Snooki, if she ran a third-party candidacy, would take 10 states easy. She is the triumphal average, the engaging focusless f-ck-up who could get tens of millions of Americans interested in politics.

She would certainly have a better chance with Titus and co. than the existing candidates. It is not that they — business students all — are ignorant of politics. They talk through the dominant issues, but they do so like excited five year olds trying to recount the plot of Chinatown, plot and character tumbling out. Much of it, insofar as it touches on any area of real life, is at second-hand, from parents and TV:

“Yeah man, cos, like, we gotta drill now, why aren’t we drilling.”

“Yeah, why aren’t we drilling?”

“Yeah, [beavis/butthead snigger] why arent we drilling, heh heh heh.”

“Cos, like, Iran man.”

“Yeah, we don’t want to be the policeman of the world.”

“And whose paying for the deficit?”

“Damn right.”

OK, that is something of a redaction from a much longer conversation that largely consisted of bands I hadn’t heard of — although being that these were midwest kids, largely because they were before my time (“Blue Oyster Cult, dude, have you heard them?”), but it’s the gist.

Politics, organisational, coherent politics, was a motorcade driving by, lights flashing. The cultural sphere, the arena of meaning for these kids, was a mosaic of experiences, pop cult tags, and endless recirculating post-’60s dead memes, with no through line.

This is not said in any sort of narrative of decline — in many ways thought has sped up over the past twenty years, people think faster, more metaphorically, more laterally — but simply to note the mismatch between the process of mainstream politics, and the current state of public consciousness, in which, for large numbers of people, any systemic framework has been lost. But is that a widespread thing, or just kids? Or just some kids?

There’s plenty of young Democrats or Republicans or whatever, but increasingly they seem a very active minority, swimming in a larger, thrashing sea off the Jersey Shore. Two days after this Bowling Green encounter, the news was still being dominated by the Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh match, which is shaping up to be one of the defining moments of 2012.

Fluke, the 30-year-old Georgetown law student who appeared before an ad-hoc pseudo-committee meeting to talk about the cost of contraception without insurance, and was called a “sl-t”, and worse, by Limbaugh, has continued to stay on the media beat — she appeared on The View this morning which is about as campaigning as it gets — and she’s continued to score points against Limbaugh, and is slowly driving the Right mad.Fluke, in straight black hair, and black suit, has proved an adept communicator, neither too ideological, nor too whiny and therapeutic. She’s direct, unemotional, and unfazed. While Rush Limbaugh has started to come apart — 12 advertisers have now withdrawn from his show, and on his most recent broadcast he sound distinctly subdued — Fluke sails on in simple grace.

Amazingly, the right has not recognised that this is the moment at which the whole political culture has turned around — it is Limbaugh who is the child of Woodstock, the obese, four-timed-married, benzo junkie unable to control himself on air, heir to Jim Morrison, while Sandra Fluke is Samuel Adams in skirts, the quiet purposeful puritan, knowingly starting a revolution that no-one can stop.

The right is now trying to make something of her activist past. Given that that involves several years working in and for the women’s refuge movement, good luck on that one, rightards. When the GOP has Newt Gingrich — who divorced his first wife (his ex-high-school teacher) while she was in hospital with cancer — they are going to lose against the Sandra Flukes of this world.

But one suspects it’s a measure of what American politics has become that the debate is between the elites, right and left, the blue suited red tied CPAC kids on one side, the Sandra Flukes on the other, and huge numbers outside of the process, sittin’ in the bar, doing shots, talking Hunger Games, and of course always coming back to Ron Paul, the wizened sage of sound money whose simple kamikaze style — today he said the US had no right to gang up on Iran — appeals to those who have no clue what his actual policies are. He has become the voice not of the voiceless, but of those who hear voices, the great American incoherence.

As we head into Super Tuesday, the whole Republican primary system feels like a series of bar conversations, backed by Blue Oyster Cult on the digital juke, and the looming prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran — and the tempting prospect for Obama that, if it happened in September, and he took part in it, he would take forty states, and be the black Reagan.

High stakes everywhere, and to quote the long-forgotten Deadly Hume “the girls all look like angels and the boys all look half-gone”.

Obama ’12, ’16, ’20.

Abolish the 22nd amendment!

Fluke ’24!

RONPAUL!

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW